When Jimmy Bartel chaired retiring teammate James Kelly off the ground after the Round 23 loss to Adelaide in 2015, he never thought the pair would be facing off in opposing colours in only four games’ time.
But as the Cats’ Round 4 match against the Bombers kicks off on Saturday, Bartel will line-up against Kelly and former teammate Mathew Stokes for the first time in the AFL’s inaugural Country Game – celebrating the role regional communities’ play in football and the Australian economy.
Speaking on SEN radio’s breakfast program (click above to hear the audio file), Bartel, who was picked up by Geelong in the same 2001 draft as Kelly, said the prospect of lining up against two good mates was a bizarre scenario.
“It feels a bit weird. Even watching Essendon games, it seems a bit strange seeing Kel and Matty Stokes in the Essendon colours; it’s hard for the eyes to get used to but they’ve been in great form those two,” Bartel said.
“You hear great reports of how good their leadership has been for the young guys and they’ve really embraced it. They’re teaching the young guys how to play some good footy.
“I do love my footy and enjoy it but I’m not a player who sits there and watches every game in the week and all the footy shows” – Jimmy Bartel
“Andrew Mackie is the self-proclaimed ‘best lip in the business’ so I’m sure he’ll have a few words teed up – he doesn’t wear a mouth guard for that reason because he doesn’t want to mumble.”
Bartel had plenty of success with Kelly and Stokes but admitted life as a footballer also came with its negatives.
Reacting to comments from Brisbane’s Mitch Robinson on Wednesday about not necessarily loving the game, the 32-year-old Cat said he didn’t consume a lot of the sport beyond the mandatory playing and training requirements but believed the best clubs ensured their players remained at their peak mentally.
“I’m not the biggest footy-nut either. I do love my footy and enjoy it but I’m not a player who sits there and watches every game in the week and all the footy shows – I tend to pick and choose what I watch.
“It’s like any job, it has some really great parts that you love and that keep you doing it but there’s also parts of the job which become mundane and monotonous from the pressure or whatever and can have a negative effect.
“The good players at good clubs find that balance and really enjoy their footy and sort of bounce into the footy club and are ready to get better or get ready for the weekend. The good clubs are good at managing players so that they do stay fresh and on the job.”
On the topic of Robert Murphy, whose season-ending knee injury deflated the AFL community, Bartel said the outpouring of support from the players for the much-loved Bulldogs captain was due to his genuine character off the field.
“The respect Bob Murphy has in the game goes beyond how good of a footballer he is. He’s a great spokesperson for us, when you see him on all sorts of media, he represents the players really well and is a funny guy. He is one of the most well-read writers for The Age, I think most players enjoy reading his articles, so he has more respect than what he does on the field.”